In June 1940, with France about to collapse, General Charles de Gaulle unfurled his Free French banner in London. His followers were initially few and were regarded as traitors by many of ... See full summary »

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In June 1940, with France about to collapse, General Charles de Gaulle unfurled his Free French banner in London. His followers were initially few and were regarded as traitors by many of their fellow countrymen, but they grew in number. Free French forces fought with distinction in North Africa and Italy and went on to play a significant part in the liberation of their own country. Written by Anonymous

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2002 (UK)  »

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Divided Nation
8 March 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Americans don't take World War I that seriously anymore. After all, we got in towards the end, in 1917, while Europe's manhood was being systematically destroyed by mismanagement and stubborn ethnic pride. Memorial Day means something else today. Originally it commemorated the signing of the armistice at the end of the First World War, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh months. It used to be called Armistice Day but the veterans of that war are all gone now and we have other casualties to think about.

America prospered through the first three years of the war by selling arms and supplies to the Allies but France was bled white by the struggle. And the Great Depression convinced the French government that they could not fight still another war. The result was a line of defensive fortifications called the Maginot line, built along the French/German border. It was a triumph of engineering at the time and a genuine obstacle to any threat from Germany. It didn't work.

It didn't work. When the Germans attacked France, they Blitzed their way through the low countries to the north and split the Allied forces in two. The French and the British Expeditionary Force found themselves on the beach at Dunkirk, where about 400,000 were evacuated, including some 100,000 French soldiers.

We often hear of the French resistance and we see the Maquis in the movies all the time. But this episode candidly tells the story of France at war with itself.

When Hitler conquered France by using innovative tactics, France was forced to surrender and the country was split in half. The northern part was governed by the Germans; the southern half by a German puppet, Marshall Petain, was called Vichy France. Vichy France was allowed to use its armed forces to protect its colonial empire, which ranged from Africa to Southeast Asia.

So far, so good. Except for two things. One is that it's all well and good for the Vichy fleet to protect its harbors in North Africa -- Morocco and Algiers. But suppose the British needed those ports in order to fight the Italians and Germans who were hard at work trying to take Egypt and the Suez Canal? After some half-hearted negotiations, Britain took the simplest route towards a solution. They sent battleships to the ports and sank most of the French Navy, killing more than one hundred French sailors. It didn't serve to warm relations between the two allies.

The second problem was a French officer of little repute who took leadership of the Free French forces while in London -- Charles DeGaulle. He was a loose cannon and continued to be a loose cannon for the rest of his life. He was constantly at odds with the British and Americans during the war. He even ordered the few French ships under his command to invade and take over a few tiny islands off the coast of Newfoundland. Newfoundland is in Canada.

Only about one third of the French forces in North Africa agreed to join the Free French. The rest were packed up and sent home, to be greeted with cheers as national heroes. It's a side of the conflict that we rarely hear about. So much easier to divide the world of that period into good -- namely us -- and bad -- namely Germany and Italy. Why wrestle with the tar baby of ambivalence? Yet, the Free French did substantially aid the Allied cause. They flew a squadron of Spitfires during the battle of Britain. They fought with the British Eighth Army against Rommel. They took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy. They flew for the Russians on the Eastern front. They played an important role in the battle for Monte Cassino. And they fought the Italians in sub-Saharan Africa in places nobody could find on a map, like Chad and Gabon.


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